UPDATE: Indiana’s GOP family feud widens as AG enters fracas over governor’s powers

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Gov. Eric Holcomb (Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office)

Gov. Eric Holcomb on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the Indiana General Assembly and legislative leaders of his own party, challenging the constitutionality of a new law that weakens his emergency powers and was enacted by fellow Republicans over the governor’s veto.

Later in the day, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita—also a Republican—suggested Holcomb had no authority to file the suit.

The lawsuit, filed in Marion Circuit Court, alleges that the Legislature “impermissibly attempted to give itself the ability to call special [legislative] sessions, thereby usurping a power given exclusively to the governor under Article 4-9 of the Indiana Constitution.”

The suit says the new law’s “very existence has created uncertainty and confusion. This controversy must be resolved as soon as possible or the consequences could be severe, including disruption to Indiana and the proper functioning of state government—something that concerns every Hoosier.”

The law was enacted by the Legislature’s Republican supermajorities on April 15 when the Indiana House and Senate voted to override the governor’s veto of House Enrolled Act 1123. The action came in the aftermath of  emergency measures imposed by the governor during the COVID-19 pandemic, which at times have limited occupancy at some businesses and mandated the wearing of masks.

The new law grants the Legislature the authority to terminate such emergency orders issued by the governor.

While legislative leaders have publicly praised Holcomb’s actions during the pandemic, they say the new law is necessary to allow lawmakers to have input during extended emergency situations. Some lawmakers have grumbled about the extended period of time some of the governor’s restrictions remained in place.

The two top legislative leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray and House Speaker Todd Huston, are specifically named as defendants in the governor’s lawsuit.

They said in written statements that they were anticipating the governor’s lawsuit.

“We are in consultation with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office on what the next steps will be in this matter,” Huston said.

The Republican family feud widened Tuesday afternoon as Rokita entered the fray.

The attorney general suggested in a written statement that Indiana provides him the authority to resolve disputes when two parts of state government disagree. He said this is necessary “so that Indiana speaks in court with a single legal voice.”

He also suggested that outside counsel should not be authorized to represent the governor in such a case. But Holcomb is being represented by the outside law firm of Lewis Wagner, including attorneys John Trimble, A. Richard Blaiklock, Aaron Grant and Michael Heavilon.

Rachel Hoffmeyer, the governor’s press secretary, acknowledged that Rokita denied the governor’s request to hire outside counsel.

“We believe under the unique circumstance of this situation that his approval is not necessary,” Hoffmeyer said in an email. “The positions taken by the attorney general were known, discussed and fully evaluated. Gov. Holcomb made it known that he and his legal team disagreed with those positions which will be decided by the court.”

The governor’s lawsuit alleges the new law is a clear violation of the separation of powers between Indiana’s legislative and executive branches of government. It asks for a permanent injunction and a declaratory judgment to deem the new law unconstitutional and prevent it from being used.

“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the state of Indiana and I have an obligation do so,” Holcomb said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “This filing is about the future of the executive branch and all the governors who will serve long after I’m gone.”

The Associated Press and The Indiana Lawyer contributed to this report.

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50 thoughts on “UPDATE: Indiana’s GOP family feud widens as AG enters fracas over governor’s powers

  1. And Holcomb is supposed to be a Republican? I am a life long Republican and I will be supporting whatever OTHER Republican runs against Holcomb. The powers that Holcombe and other Governors have instituted is nothing short of a dictatorship. Rule by decree? Rule by an autocratic order? No time limit on emergency orders? Where are the people’s voices being heard? If we wanted this sort of stuff, we would have elected a Democrat.

    1. When people say things like “Im A lIfElOnG rEpUbLiCaN” or “iM a LiFeLoNg DeMoCrAT” they are showing a serious lack of critical thinking.

    2. Holcomb is a smart guy. Why wait until there is a crises when people could die if there is a question about the Governor’s emergency powers.

      The law makers were just putting on legislative theater when they passed this law.

    3. Neil, Holcomb offered to call the legislature back and the leaders of the legislature declined the offer. And these same leaders could’ve ended Holcomb’s state of emergency at any time during the session and they chose not to.

      There was no need to pass a new law. The problem is the actual legislators themselves, they were out of their depth during this pandemic. But don’t worry, I’m sure they’ve got some fantastic gerrymandered districts they’re going show us in a few months here so that they can make sure they get reelected for another 10 years.

    4. This is Holcomb’s second term, so, based on the CONSTITUTION, he won’t be running again. It shows leadership on his part by taking this, and the heat, on and not leaving it for his successor. He continues to be a class act and a true leader.

    1. I am convinced you never know what you’re talking about/read the article when you decide to get click-clacking on your keyboard.

  2. Another attempt by our Republican supermajority to pass laws that are clearly unconstitutional and will cost Hoosiers money to defend. I usually vote Democratic, but think Holcomb has done a pretty good job managing the pandemic. And Holcomb is correct that the Constitution gives the authority to call sessions to our Governor.

  3. Some of you guys don’t understand the concept of the separation of powers or of a state constitution. If you the legislature wants to have a say have a say in emergency declarations – and they should – change the law in a constitutional way. Maybe put a limit on the length of emergency orders from the governor and require the governor to call a legislative session to enact consecutive emergency orders for the same emergency. Passing a law allowing the General Assembly to meet whenever they see fit is an obvious abuse of power.

    1. They know how to amend the Constitution when they feel like it. They put property tax caps in there just a few years ago.

      The problem is that the Republican Party has been taken over by a group of individuals who aren’t qualified to work the grill at a fast food restaurant, much less hold elected office. Our lives as Hoosiers are better when they are not in session.

  4. I support Governor Holcomb in this. And, I agree, that some of the Republican representatives are way out of their depth in serving our state. I am surprised that they find their way to the State House even using GPS!

  5. Todd “let’s jump on another baseless lawsuit” Rokita has been out of control since before he was elected. No surprise he forgot about the “law” part of bing a lawyer and jumped in on the partisan Republican position on this one too. Rokita is just a waste of Indiana tax payer dollars.

    1. Rokita wants to be governor so he’s going to everything he can to please the right-wing extremist regressives.

  6. To “Joe B” and Alison B but especially Joe B; you are missing the point. No matter if he is running again or there were some legislative shenanigans, the point is that NO WHERE does the Indiana Constitution grant the Governor unlimited power. The law might have been better written, with a stipulation that “after a certain number of days (legislature names the number) the emergency order must be rescinded and reviewed by the State Legislature, so that some limitation will be given. Governor Holcomb was not the only, or even the worst example of acting in a dictatorial way. The governors on three sides of our state did a far worse job. However, in his extreme concern about “separation of powers” he fails to see that an open ended, and iron fisted rule by decree is removing both the courts and the legislature from any input regarding a very unique situation. That is why there are supposed to be checks and balances. Any person with even a moderate amount of historical knowledge, knows that “emergency powers” or some “emergency” event have brought in some of the most monstrous calamities ever. A fire in the Reichstag in February 1933 allowed an open ended emergency to create a disaster of Biblical proportions. No one ever wants something, even remotely similar to that situation to happen again.

    1. So tell me…how can anyone put an expiration date on the actions required by the pandemic when no one knows how long it will last? I remember when the Trumpists predicted nothing more serious than the flu, which proved to be horribly and tragically short-sighted and downright ignorant. The last thing public health needs and 100+ part-time state legislators replacing the scientists and doctors who are trained for such responsibility.

    2. So tell me…how can anyone put an expiration date on the actions required by the pandemic when no one knows how long it will last? I remember when the Trumpists predicted nothing more serious than the flu, which proved to be horribly and tragically short-sighted and downright ignorant. The last thing public health needs are 100+ part-time state legislators replacing the scientists and doctors who are trained for such responsibility.

    3. True. And, the law the Gov. is so upset about creates a 10-member bi-partisan, bi-camera committee that stays in communication with the Gov. during a state of emergency. The legislature will only call themselves into a special session if this 10-member committee agrees it is needed.
      The Gov’s interpretation of the Constitution would make the Indiana Legislature the only deliberative body without the ability to call themselves into a session.
      One last thing, our Constitution does not prohibit the legislature from doing so. It only specifically gives this authority to the Gov.

    4. To Brent B. I do not believe this is what anyone has in mind. Consider the scenario of a billion dollars in emergency relief funds flowing into the state at a time when the legislature is not in session and the Gov. has emergency powers under a state of emergency he has called.
      Should the Gov. be permitted to spend these funds as he alone sees fit? Should the funds be spent on meeting needs related to the emergency? Will having the legislature involved ensure funding will be allocated fairly throughout the state?

    5. With regards to Brent claiming the Trumpists “predicted nothing more than serious flu”, you might recall that same prediction came from Dr. Fauci…

    6. Neil – how this bill was written doesn’t matter. The Constitution is clear, only the governor can call the legislature into a special session. If they don’t like that, amend the Constitution. They did it for property tax caps (a truly stupid idea), why not add this?

      I feel much less strongly about the spending of money portion and feel the Legislature should have a role. But they would have had that … if they had accepted Holcomb’s offer when he asked them if they wanted to return to Indianapolis.

      We don’t need this law. We need a state legislature with grown up, competent adults.

    7. And if Holcomb was doing such an awful, dictatorial job, remind me why the Legislature didn’t clip his wings on January 3rd when they returned to Indianapolis. They had the ability to do so the entire session and they didn’t. Heck, John Jacob tried to end the state of emergency on organization day in November.

      Your problem isn’t Eric Holcomb.

  7. Good for Governor Holcomb! The former federal administration abdicated its responsibility to protect the public health and economy during a devastating pandemic and left it up to governors and local leaders to try to do their best in a difficult situation. So Governor Holcomb did his best and had excellent leadership with his medical team at the State Board of Health. I hate that we taxpayers have to pay for the IGA and Todd Rokita’s nonsense. Can we impeach TR now for his dereliction of duty?

    1. If Curtis Hill hadn’t gone to that bar, Rokita wouldn’t even be AG… thanks, Curtis!

  8. So tell me…how can anyone put an expiration date on the actions required by the pandemic when no one knows how long it will last? I remember when the Trumpists predicted nothing more serious than the flu, which proved to be horribly and tragically short-sighted and downright ignorant. The last thing public health needs are 100+ part-time state legislators replacing the scientists and doctors who are trained for such responsibility.

    1. You had me until the word “Trumpist” then it was evident that you are clueless.

    2. I do not believe this is the scenario anyone has in mind.
      Consider the situation where $1 Billion in emergency relief funds flows into the state, unrestricted, at a time when the legislature is not in session.
      Should the Gov. be allowed to make the decision on how to spend these funds on his/her own?
      Would having the legislature involved ensure the funds were allocated fairly throughout the state?
      Would having the legislature involved ensure constituent needs are known and considered?
      I suspect this is the very real situation people anticipate, although the total dollars will be less.

    3. I think 100+ part time representatives would be more representative of the people in their area over scientists and doctors. Yes, I do want to have a say in how my life is run and what I can and cannot do. This pandemic has ceded far to much power in the hands of a few individuals. Even if we make the wrong decision at least it was ours. I think their is much value in listening to scientists and doctors and I don’t discount their importance, but letting them ultimately decide the fate of our lives and business’s is not a path I want to go down again.

    4. You know the whole thing here is were saying people are stupid and can’t make the right decisions so we the power structure must tell them what to think and do. I hope we learn from this pandemic and are able to take back the decisions for our lives and that begins at the local and state level. It would be nice if the word “moderate” actually came back into favor, but I’m not holding my breath. We are simply too divided or are we? I talk regularly with someone who thinks the opposite of how I do, but it’s amazing how we are not that far apart when we shut out the partisan news and just talk about issues that affect our lives. People are intelligent and reasonable when they listen to each other and shut out the extremes that dominate the news cycle.

  9. Rokita has no “authority to resolve this dispute.”
    He’s a lawyer and legal advisor and not a branch of state government and not a decision maker here.
    Once again, he’s improperly claiming legal authority he doesn’t have.
    This is a dispute between the executive branch and legislative branch of state government.
    The dispute will ultimately be properly resolved by the Indiana Supreme Court which I expect will rule that the constitutional authority to convene a special session rests solely with the governor, and that the law passed by the legislature is unconstitutional.
    Legislature, stand down.
    Rokita, step aside and let the Indiana Supreme Court do its job if the legislature doesn’t stand down.

  10. I don’t know that we’ve ever had a situation like Covid that has tested the powers of government at all levels and what we as people are willing to accept in the name of public safety. I think this emergency calls for a wide look at all political power structures locally and nationally to decide how much power we want to give individuals over our lives. I’m more in the camp of collective decisions and representation in this partisan era over giving individuals like Governor’s and Presidents complete rule over our lives and business’s so I think all of it needs to be reviewed. I mean think if god forbid that a President (any) decided to launch a nuclear war as an extreme example. We need to make sure we are still “we the people” and never concentrate power into the hands of the individual.

    1. Lots of arguments today seem to boil down to “the common good” vs. “power over our lives”.


      Imagine if the “no power over our lives” folks had been around during WW2 when there was a draft and a years-long rationing program…

    2. You are right Chris, but I suspect that during WW2 people bought into the reasoning and were willing participants. Defeating Hitler and Japan seemed to be something that unified us. This pandemic did for a while when it was only supposed to last a short time, but as restrictions still drag on we have split into two distinct camps as you say. The stories you see on tv are only going to get worse as time goes on. I really think an overall review of emergency powers at all levels is warranted. What it means, when can it be enacted and who is in charge. We have to find the right balance between the common good and individual freedoms and liberties. No easy task for sure, but certainly one that needs to be addressed.

    3. I mean when we look back on this whole mess in several years and digest all the data are we going to say, yes we did the right thing in shutting things down or are we going to say we overreacted and front and center is going to be what actually constitutes an emergency over our lives? That’s certainly going to be an ongoing and divided debate between pro government and libertarian minded people.